Crew of Smartini Goes to Italy!

In case you’ve been wondering what the crew of Smartini (Fran and me, but not May the Cat) has been up to lately – we went to Italy! For two weeks with Bennett (my son, Fran’s step-son), and Bennett’s mom, Terri Henderson (yes, that’s my ex-wife – we get along great these days), then just Fran and me for another week.

I’d love to give you all the details, but in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, “No, it’s too much – lemme sum up.” We left the USA on May 12 (Terri and Bennett from NYC, Fran and me from Miami) and flew to Rome. A few days there, then a few days in Venice, then a few days in Florence, then some more days in the countryside of Tuscany, a few miles from Siena. Terri and Bennet had to go home at that point, but Fran and I stayed for almost another week, driving a few days to Rome, and then flying to the island of Sicily for four days.

It was a great trip. Bennett is in art school, and Terri was a fine arts / art history graduate from Indiana University, so the art we saw in person, that they had been seeing only in books for years, was enough to make the trip a success for them. (Fran and I really enjoyed that part, too – except maybe for all the pushing and shoving in the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel – that was a bit much!) The four days hanging out at the old (OLD! Everything is old there! Like, hundreds, even thousands, of years old!) house in Tuscany was relaxing, and beautiful, and fun as we explored nearby Siena, and the countryside.

We really loved every place we went: Rome, Pompeii / Amalfi Coast, Venice, Florence, Tuscany / Siena, and Sicily. The people were, almost without exception, welcoming and wonderful, in spite of our many, many utterances of “Mi dispiaci – non parlo Italiano.” (I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian.)

It’s too much to write about, and even if I did, you’d still need to go yourself to really understand what it’s all about. If you’ve ever fantasized about going – do it! I can’t imagine you won’t love it!

Here is a small selection of the hundreds of pictures we took, with comments describing a lot of them. (You have to click on the little “thought bubble” icon to read the comments – sorry!)  https://photos.app.goo.gl/UDgWLtQxscsiyGwL9

No description of this trip would be complete without sending a huge “Thank you!” to Paul and Denise Magnus, who flew all the way from Minnesota to George Town, in the Bahamas, to spend almost a month onboard Smartini, to take care of May the Cat. We met Paul and Denise while we were in the marina in Titusville, FL for a few weeks back in 2016. They lived on their boat for a very long time, but sadly, lost it to Hurricane Irma. When Denise found out we were looking for a cat-sitter for three weeks, she immediately volunteered. Thanks so much, Paul and Denise!

Fran’s Salty Tower Garden

This page is dedicated to documenting the process of beginning, and hopefully maintaing an Aeroponic Tower Garden on the upper deck of MV Smartini. I am certain there will be setbacks, but hope, with a little patience and creativity, we can get some food growing onboard. (Arugula for Sondra being the most important!). The initial planting was done on April Fools Day. Blessing? Curse? We will soon see! To read from the begining, CLICK HERE and read entries from the bottom up. Return to this page anytime to read updates. Dated entries will be organized most recent at the top, and I will add photos along the way. Wish me luck!

4/21/2018 – The Tower comes alive!!
The process of finally cleaning the Tower, getting it fully plumbed, and electricity to it, ended up taking a few days due to a few minor set backs. Cleaning out the Tower was a snap, so was installing the pump, and seeing that – YES – the DC pump we purchased to replace the AC one works great! The timer we purchased however, did not, as mentioned in the previous entry. Butch came to the rescue, and built an Arduino to act as the timer and the on/ off for the pump. After a few days of fiddling with the programming to get it just right, it now works like a charm too! Anyone who is actually reading this, is likely curious to see how the Tower goes together, and how it works, so I created a little gallery to show the whole process, enjoy!

Tower construction - extender
The standard Tower comes with 5 rings for 20 growing ports, I got the extention kit that allows for 2 more rings, for 28 grow ports. Go big, or go home!!
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Seedlings, day 14. One lost, and replanted. 5 not yet sprouted.

4/16/2018 – 2 weeks complete.
Two weeks have passed since I started my little seedlings, and 22 out of 28 have sprouted, and seem quite happy. I lost one that I thought would do really well, the snap peas. It was one of the early ones to sprout, and had a really strong stem, but the leaves never opened, and it finally turned to mush. I decided to replant that slot with a second cucumber plant, apparently that gives a better chance I will have both male and female flowers for fertilization. Of the other 5 not sprouted, one is cilantro which should sprout in a week, two are strawberries I should see in 2 weeks, and the other two I fear may not germinate. They are spinach and chard. If I don’t see them in the next 7 days, I will replant with 2 other greens.

I have been doing some more reading on the Tower Garden forums, and the general consensus is to transplant the seedlings into the Tower when you start seeing roots extend out of the growing cubes. We have LOTS of roots! So, Butch and I began getting the Tower ready yesterday morning. I disassembled the entire Tower, and cleaned every nook and crannie. It is unbelievable how dirty that thing got! When we first bought the tower, we decided we needed to change it from using AC power to DC power. That would allow it to consume a lot less energy by not needing to go through our inverter. Butch had already run the DC wiring to the flybridge where the Tower will live. All he needs to do is hook up the pump that sits in the Tower reservoir, and the timer we bought to cycle the water on and off. Simple right? Welllll, the timer I bought doesn’t allow for simple on/ off cycles. It is like the old hose timers that you can set times of day, and only allows for 16 settings. Since we need to start with 15 minutes on/ 15 minutes off, it was too many cycles for that timer to do. Crap.

It turns out, I had no reason to fret. Butch’s most recent obsession… I mean, hobby, is playing with tiny microcontrollers (Arduinos) to automate or monitor random tasks around the boat. It turns out, creating a relay to turn my pump on and off is a fairly simple task for these little goodies. Butch has spent this morning, researching how to make it work, and will build it later today. With any luck, we will have the Tower up and running by tomorrow!! The next entry will be a bunch of photos of how the Tower goes together, and what it looks like with all the little plantings!
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4/9/2018 – Week 1 complete!
We are now 8 days into this grand veggie experiment, and I have 19 of the 28 seedlings spouting, and I am SO proud! I have already begun calling them “the babies”.

In case you are curious as to what exactly I am attempting to grow, here is the list of the 19 that have already sprouted in the Tower (these will be planted from the bottom up):
– Two types of tomatoes
– Small pickling cucumbers
– Small cannonball watermelons (I know, I know, I’m definitely dreaming!)
– Green beans
– Broccoli
– Mint
– Dill
– Snap peas
– Basil
– Two types of arugula
– Three types of leaf lettuce
– Red and green cabages
– Kale
– Bok choy

Here is the list of 9 little guys who haven’t sprouted yet. Never fear, I looked each one up, and we haven’t reached the normal time-frame for germination of each of these, so there is still plenty of hope they will arise!
– Three types of hot peppers. I expect to see these in the next 5-6 days.
– Swiss chard – same story, another 7 days or so.
– Celery – no sprouts expected for another 2 weeks!
– Spinach – these should come in the next 2-3 days, I hope.
– Cilantro – ditto, 2-3 days.
– Two slots for strawberries – these little guys could take as long as 30 days to germinate! I hope it works, I don’t have anymore seeds left for those little beauties.

Stay tuned, I will try to post updates about once per week!

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Plantings 5 days in, more than half have sprouted!

4/6/2018 – Sprouts!!
Holy cow… there are sprouts!! The first three (both arugulas and the kale) were spotted on the 4th, just 3 days after starting them. Today, just 5 days in, I have sprouts for 15 of the 28 plantings. I have the seedling tray in a very sunny warm place inside. I need to keep a close eye on the sprouts to make sure they don’t dislike so much sun. If I see any wilting, I will add a shade net over the top. This will reduce the strength of the sun by about 30%.

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4/1/2018 – Seed Selection
The Tower Garden, with the extension kit, gives me 28 places to grow individual plants. The tower can grow just about anything that is not a root vegetable. Because it is a vertical tower, you need to place smaller things at the top, and the larger bushy items at the bottom. The goal is to allow all plants to get even sunlight, and even watering. The good thing is, you can move them around as they grow to make it all work. I purchased most of my seeds from Johnny’s Seeds, and tried to find all heat-tolerant varieties, since we will have almost constant summer conditions. Since I truly have no idea how this will all work out, my first attempt at plantings is a bit of a “Hail Mary” – a mix of greens (2 kinds of arugula, Sondra!), hot peppers, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and what the hell… even baby watermelons! This is a soil-less system, so the plantings are made in “rock wool” that holds onto moisure and gives your little seedlings something to start roots into. I made a spreadsheet to keep track of what is what, and to help me know when to replant seedlings if we have success. Time will tell!

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How it all began…
I have a curious habit when it comes to new “things” to try. I generally get super excited about said “thing”, study up and research the best equipment and methods, buy it all in anticipation of starting, then get freaked out that I will fail. The “thing” then sits, collecting dust while I worry daily about starting.

The best example of this was as soon as I was done with dental hygiene school. Suddenly, I had a real income, and no homework or studying to do. What on earth was I going to do with all this new free time? Well, I was going to learn how to play the bass, and be in a rock band, of course! So, I headed to the music store, bought a base and an amp, and then… it sat in a corner of my house untouched for the next 6 months. In this case, my opportunity to finally start, despite my 6 months of worry, came when my then-husband’s bass player moved on, and “Average Joe” was suddenly bass-less. He made me pick up the dusty thing, and with my sweaty hands, he taught me all of the songs for Average Joe, and in about a month, I was onstage rocking out! I had a ball doing this for the next 5 years.

There are numerous examples of this, but the most recent is my Tower Garden. While planning our big island adventure, we realized one of the things that is so hard to get in the more remote islands, is fresh greens and other veggies. Since a big part of our goal is to be as self-sufficient as we can, having an onboard garden makes perfect sense, even if it may be a tad crazy. Commence the research! I found a million websites dedicated to hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics. Build-your-own contraptions, use fish for nutrients, yadda yadda yadda, it was weeks of diving head-first into interweb rabbit holes. Finally, due to space limitations, and our need to keep things as simple as possible, I decided on the aeroponic Tower Garden. It makes the nutrient part of the puzzle a total no-brainer, and easy to carry on-board,  which is what we need. Once I bought it all, I quickly put it together, and on the upper deck, it has stood, collecting more dust than I thought possible, as a great conversation starter, totally void of any plants for a year and a half.

In my defense, there are a million reasons why it has stood unused, all the same reasons that it took us so long to get the adventure started. But, along with all of those totally valid set-backs, I have also worried almost daily about starting it. What will I plant? What if it doesn’t work? What if they grow, then I kill them all? Am I dreaming?

Anyone who knows me, understands that as soon as there is a naysayer about a goal of mine, then I want to set forth, and succeed even more. Enter the Tower Garden “Guru” on the help forum. He has declared that it will not work on a boat. Period. And, he gave a list of reasons why he believes that. HA! “Watch me!” is what I have been defiantly yelling in my head for the past year, as I found ways to address his problem list. Of course, this adds to my worry of starting. What if he is right? Screw that – let the plantings begin!

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Smartini Barber Shop

Can you believe she would let me cut her hair? We’ve talked about it for a long time, anticipating being away from any known, or even professional, stylist for weeks, even months, at a time. I even got a lesson from Tanya Reed, Fran’s long-time stylist in Satellite Beach – but that was many moons ago.

Fran’s either actually happy with it, or is just putting on a brave face until she can sneak back up to see Tanya for an emergency fix. But either way, I don’t seem to be in trouble.

How To Sign Up for Smartini Life

How to Subscribe to, and Register for, Smartini Life. You need to read this only once, and do it only once.

I wish I didn’t have to write this, and you didn’t have to read this – sorry. I’ll make it brief. (At the end, I explain why this is necessary, in case you’re interested.)

In order to receive an email whenever we post something new, you need to “Subscribe”, like this:

  1. subscribe-formPut your name and email into the “Subscribe to Smartini Life!” form that’s on the right side of every page, and click the [Subscribe] button.
  2. Check your email – you should have one from Smartini Life with the Subject “Confirm your subscription to Smartini Life”. It instructs you to click a link to confirm that you want to subscribe. Click on it. (If you DON’T see this email in your inbox, check you spam folder.)
  3. Now you’re a “Subscriber” – which means ONLY that you’ll get an email whenever we post something new. It does NOT give you the ability to write Comments – but if you don’t want to write Comments, then you can stop here – no need to “Register”. If you want to write Comments, keep reading.

In order to be able to write a Comment on something we post, you have to “Register”, like this:

  1. registerClick on the “Register” link that appears on the right side of every page, in the “Other Stuff” section.
  2. Enter a User Name and your email, and click the [Register] button.
  3. Check your email – you should have one from WordPress with the subject “[Smartini Life] Your username and password info”. It instructs you to click a link (the first one – the one that’s very long) to set your password. Click on it. (If you DON’T see this email in your inbox, check you spam folder.)
  4. You’ll see a page with a crazy password, like ^*4$8Ohk9rIySkKu. You don’t want to use that, so change it to whatever you like, and click the [Reset Password] button. Don’t worry if it’s “Weak” or even “Very weak” – you’re not going to be doing anything important here! (But write it down somewhere, so you don’t forget it.)
  5. Now you’re “Registered”. You don’t have to sign in to read things, but you will have to sign in if you want to write a comment.

Sorry this is necessary. We’re using WordPress for the site, which is free, and quite capable – but incredibly, it has no built-in feature for notifying people when something new is posted. So you have to get a “plug in” – a little program that works with WordPress to add that capability. Only, it doesn’t truly integrate with WordPress – it creates its own list of “Subscribers”, separate from WordPress’s list of “Users” – and no, they don’t synchronize. That’s why you have to sign up twice, and why I had to just spend 30 minutes documenting the process. Grrrr… But, as I frequently tell people who complain about Gmail, or iTunes, or any other free software, “Shut up – it’s free!”.